Westminster Hall

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Chapter 4 (2 references)

We dined at Kinghorn, and then got into a post-chaise. Mr Nairne and his servant, and Joseph, rode by us. We stopped at Cupar, and drank tea. We talked of Parliament; and I said, I supposed very few of the members knew much of what was going on, as indeed very few gentlemen know much of their own private affairs. JOHNSON. 'Why, sir, if a man is not of a sluggish mind, he may be his own steward. If he will look into his affairs, he will soon learn. So it is as to publick affairs. There must always be a certain number of men of business in Parliament.' BOSWELL. 'But consider, sir; what is the House of Commons? Is not a great part of it chosen by peers? Do you think, sir, they ought to have such an influence?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, sir. Influence must ever be in proportion to property; and it is right it should.' BOSWELL. 'But is there not reason to fear that the common people may be oppressed?' JOHNSON. 'No, sir. Our great fear is from want of power in government. Such a storm of vulgar force has broke in.' BOSWELL. 'It has only roared.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it has roared, till the Judges in Westminster Hall have been afraid to pronounce sentence in opposition to the popular cry. You are frightened by what is no longer dangerous, like Presbyterians by popery.' He then repeated a passage, I think, in Butler's Remains, which ends, 'and would cry, Fire! Fire! in Noah's flood'. [Footnote: The passage quoted by Dr Johnson is in the Character of the Assembly-man. Butler's Remains, p. 232, edit. 1754. 'He preaches, indeed, both in season and out of season; for he rails at Popery, when the land is almost lost in Presbytery; and would cry Fire! Fire! in Noah's flood.'

Chapter 40 (2 references)

Having talked of the strictness with which witnesses are examined in courts of justice, Dr Johnson told us, that Garrick, though accustomed to face multitudes, when produced as a witness in Westminster Hall, was so disconcerted by a new mode of publick appearance, that he could not understand what was asked. It was a cause where an actor claimed a free benefit; that is to say, a benefit without paying the expence of the house; but the meaning of the term was disputed. Garrick was asked, 'Sir, have you a free benefit?' 'Yes.' 'Upon what terms have you it?' 'Upon...the terms...of ...a FREE BENEFIT.' He was dismissed as one from whom no information could be obtained. Dr Johnson is often too hard on our friend Mr Garrick. When I asked him, why he did not mention him in the Preface to his Shakspeare, he said, 'Garrick has been liberally paid for any thing he has done for Shakspeare. If I should praise him, I should much more praise the nation who paid him. He has not made Shakspeare better known; [Footnote: It has been triumphantly asked, 'Had not the plays of Shakspeare lain dormant for many years before the appearance of Mr Garrick? Did he not exhibit the most excellent of them frequently for thirty years together, and render them extremely popular by his own inimitable performance?' He undoubtedly did. But Dr Johnson's assertion has been misunderstood. Knowing as well as the objectors what has been just stated, he must necessarily have meant, that 'Mr Garrick did not as A CRITICK make Shakspeare better known; he did not ILLUSTRATE any one PASSAGE in any of his plays by acuteness of disquisition, sagacity of conjecture:' and what had been done with any degree of excellence in THAT way was the proper and immediate subject of his preface. I may add in support of this explanation the following anecdote, related to me by one of the ablest commentators on Shakspeare, who knew much of Dr Johnson: 'Now I have quitted the theatre,' cries Garrick, 'I will sit down and read Shakspeare.' ''Tis time you should,' exclaimed Johnson, 'for I much doubt if you ever examined one of his plays from the first scene to the last.'] he cannot illustrate Shakspeare: So I have reasons enough against mentioning him, were reasons necessary. There should be reasons FOR it.' I spoke of Mrs Montague's very high praises of Garrick. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is fit she should say so much, and I should say nothing. Reynolds is fond of her book, and I wonder at it; for neither I, nor Beauclerk, nor Mrs Thrale, could get through it.' [Footnote: No man has less inclination to controversy than I have, particularly with a lady. But as I have claimed, and am conscious of being entitled to, credit, for the strictest fidelity, my respect for the publick obliges me to take notice of an insinuation which tends to impeach it.